Reggie Bush, one of Fox’s college football studio analysts, talks national champs, Heisman hopefuls and the immediate need for an expanded College Football Playoff with The Post’s Steve Serby.
Q: How good is this Alabama team?
A: Well we’re gonna find out (laugh), ’cause they lost a lot of players … it’s hard to say whether they’re gonna be national championship contenders, or they’re just gonna make it to the playoffs. We don’t know that right now because we haven’t seen Bryce Young. We haven’t seen Bill O’Brien as an offensive coordinator for Alabama. I know their defense is gonna be really good, I know they’re gonna be really good. … National championship-or-bust for Alabama, that’s really what we’re talking about every year.
Q: Which teams do you see as the biggest threats to Alabama?
A: I think it’s Georgia, Oklahoma, Clemson, Ohio State, I think those teams, which are always gonna be the same teams in the running for the four playoff spots until we get expansion. All those teams have one common denominator, and that’s great quarterback play. When you have great quarterback play, you’re already ahead of the game; you’re already ahead of the curve. All these teams I’m talking about also have a culture there that breeds success.
JT Daniels is gonna be special. … They always have a stable of running backs on Georgia, it’s just what they do. And the other thing I love about Georgia is their defense. The Georgia defense is nasty, they’re physical, they come to take your head off, they blitz a lot, they walk around in pre-snap read and give you exotic looks … that’s an issue for a lot of offenses. If you have a quarterback who doesn’t have great vision, is not able to see where all these blitzes are coming from, he can get his head knocked off.
You asked me earlier about who the biggest threat to Alabama was, now that I think about it, I think it’s Georgia.
We have known for the last couple of years that defense has not been a premium in the Big 12, right? Oklahoma’s defense played SO much better last year, and if their defense can continue to elevate, then I do believe they will have a shot at the national title.
Clemson, you know they’re gonna have a good defense ’cause their ‘D’ coordinator [Brent Venables] is really good. Let me say this though: That first game of the season, Georgia versus Clemson, is gonna tell us a lot. If it’s a great game, it’s a nail-biter, it comes down to the wire, we’re probably gonna see these same two teams again at the end of the season in the playoffs. If one of these teams is blown off the map, that’s gonna tell us a lot as well.
Q: Your thoughts on Spencer Rattler.
A: I think every NFL team is licking their fingers, can’t wait to get their hands on Spencer Rattler because I think he’s that special. When you watch him throw the football, he didn’t play like a freshman last year, he played like a junior or senior last year. … Now you have Spencer Rattler coming to his second year with (Oklahoma head coach) Lincoln Riley, second year in the system, I think he’s gonna compete for the Heisman Trophy. I think he’s gonna have the team competing for the national championship, not just the playoff spot.
Q: How about Sam Howell?
A: A beast. I think it’s gonna come down to Sam Howell against Spencer Rattler, I think those are gonna be the two guys in the running for the Heisman Trophy this year. You know they’re gonna throw the football all over the place. Mack Brown’s done a great job with North Carolina just reviving the football program since he’s been there, and just getting top talent to come to North Carolina. When you have a quarterback like Sam Howell playing the way that he is with the level of success that he’s playing at, now other kids see that, now other kids are like, ‘Well, I don’t have to go to Alabama, Clemson …’ I like them to compete for the ACC championship, but at the end of the day I think it’s Clemson. But I would not be surprised though, if North Carolina was able to upset them because they’ve been knocking on the door these last few times they played Clemson. In order to be able to beat Clemson, you need great quarterback play, and you have that with Sam Howell. You have a guy who can go out there and put up three-, four-hundred yards a game throwing the football if you let him.
Q: Bryce Young?
A: All we have to go off of is what he did in high school. When you get to college football, it’s a completely different ballgame. Nick Saban runs a pro-style culture there. That’s the reason why he can lose a Mac Jones and replace him with another five-star quarterback, right? He even replaces coaches as easily as he replaces five-star players. He lost [Steve] Sarkasian, he went out and got Bill O’Brien. I think Bryce Young is gonna be good. It’s just a matter of how good does he want to be?
Q: DJ Uiagalelei?
A: I think he’s gonna bring a different element to Clemson. He’s bigger than Trevor Lawrence, so he’s bringing a different element to the read-option game. Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne, that was a very special connection I really liked watching develop over the last years, what they had just in the read-option game. So I think DJ Uiagalelei’s gonna have the same as well. It depends on the kind of weapons that he has around him, I know (wide receiver) Justyn Ross is coming back, it’s gonna be huge for him. That’s the reason I like DJ Uiagalelei ’cause he’s wearing the best number, you know what I’m saying? Number 5, it don’t get much better than that.
Q: Another team you’re high on?
A: Iowa State is the one team that can ruin it for everybody. If you watch ’em on film they play hard, they play to the end of the whistle. They wear you down with great calls and a great running back (Breece Hall) who I also have in my preseason Heisman favorites along with Spencer Rattler and Sam Howell. They have good tight-end play with Charlie Kolar, and they also have the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Mike Rose, and Breece Hall was the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. They have 11 starters returning on offense, and I think they have 10 starters returning on defense. I believe their defense was No. 1 against the run last year in the Big 12, so they have all the intangibles, they have all the things that they need to be able to compete with Oklahoma. I think at the end of the season when they play Oklahoma, I think that game is gonna determine a lot for that fourth playoff spot. Oklahoma-Iowa State is a game you should definitely have circled on your calendar.
Q: Your USC Trojans and the Pac-12?
A: The Pac-12 has definitely been down. At the end of the day, teams like USC, Oregon kinda pull the conference along and carry the conference, so to speak, but I really think that USC has a really good shot to win the Pac-12 this year — great quarterback play, you know they’re gonna throw the ball all over the place with that Air Raid offense, (offensive coordinator) Graham Harrell. Their recruiting has improved, I believe they got the No. 1 recruit in the nation (DE Korey Foreman). Is Clay Helton gonna be able to help the team finally get to the next level and start making some noise, or are they going to kinda regress? I don’t think they’re gonna stay the same, I think they’re either gonna be a lot better, or they’re gonna go backwards. They gotta protect the football. That was one of the things that hurt them last year was turnovers, and also, getting more to a balanced attack. You gotta be able to manage the clock.
I don’t think there’s one team that’s just head and shoulders over anybody. I think Oregon’s really good, but I thought Oregon was really good last year, and then they got smacked by Iowa State in the Bowl game.
Q: Notre Dame?
A: They usually pump out eight, nine wins a year, and then they fall short. But I don’t necessarily blame Notre Dame for that. It’s the college system that is holding back these opportunities for universities to continue to go to the playoffs and get to the national title. With the four-team playoff system, it’ll never happen. I feel like we’ve missed out on so many great stories because of it.
Q: Thoughts on a 12-game playoff?
A: I think that needs to happen now. I’ve always hated the way that the College Football Playoff system has happened, with four teams. It’s really dumb to only have four teams compete for a national title. You got all these colleges who every year have this wrong narrative like they really have a shot to make it, and they don’t. It’s a disservice to the kids. It’s a disservice to the sport to only allow four teams to compete for a national title. When you do that, you keep the top players, five-star recruits, going to the same universities. Because now, the top talent only feels like, “Well, if I want to compete for a playoff, or want to play for a national title, my options are limited. I can only go to three or four schools. If I want to stay home, and stay close to mom and dad and my family, and still make a name for myself, well, most likely not gonna have that opportunity because no other team has a chance to make it to the Playoff for a national title.” So yes, expansion should have happened a long time ago.
Q: LSU, Michigan, Penn State: which one will rebound?
A: I think LSU’s the team that gives me the most hope. I know the head coach (Ed Orgeron), I know him well, I know his DNA, I know what he’s made of, I know the kind of teams that he runs, I know the kind of players that he brings in, I know the kind of talent he develops as well. They’re in the SEC, they’re in the strongest conference, so I think they’re gonna be a lot better this year. But not every team can bounce back like Alabama. Alabama makes it look easy. I promise you it’s not that easy.
Q: Texas A&M?
A: I think Texas A&M is around the middle of the pack in the SEC, and like everybody else, they’re chasing Alabama. The rivalry between Texas and Texas A&M is what I’m most excited to see back in college football. Isaiah Spiller, I love watching him play, the list goes on and on. I think they’re middle-of-the-pack when it comes to the SEC, and that just tells you how great the SEC is.
Q: Thoughts on realignment?
A: There has been no structure that has come out about what the realignment is gonna be, how it’s gonna look. Actually the Pac-12 came out and said that they’re not gonna expand. So to me right now the realignment is just an announcement of the Big 12, ACC and Pac-12 saying that they’re gonna work together. But what does that mean? Are all these conferences just gonna now merge into one? — which I don’t think is gonna happen. Does it benefit the Pac-12 in a way that people are now going to watch the Pac-12 more? Because the issue with the Pac-12 is on the East Coast, by the time games start it’s very late, right? It’s really gonna get more eyeballs on the Pac-12. If it’s not doing any of that, then it’s just lip service.
Q: Your 2005 Heisman Trophy that was vacated in 2010 by the NCAA (following an investigation into approximately $300,000 received in cash and gifts during Bush’s playing days).
A: The story continues. It’s not done yet. Stay tuned for much more.
Q: Do you think you’ll get it back?
A: Without a doubt. Without a doubt.
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